The fragile architecture of the rapprochement between Pakistan and Afghanistan is under threat, but it must not be allowed to crumble. Almost since their inception, the governments of President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have sought to recalibrate the fractious relationship that had become characterised by a yawning trust deficit on both sides. Bridging the gap was never going to be easy, but initial indications were positive. That positivity has become diluted after a wave of bombings in Kabul claimed by the Afghan Taliban; and an angry news conference given by President Ghani in which he was explicit in his condemnation of Pakistan for allegedly harbouring Taliban groups that were attacking his country.
The response by Pakistan has thus far been measured rather than diving headlong into a blame game, a response that we welcome. President Ghani is under pressure, and not just from the Taliban. His government is far from rock-solid and the country is as politically polarised as it ever was, divided along ethnic and tribal lines. Although he did not offer any hard evidence to back his assertion that bomb-factories and Taliban groups were in Pakistan and attacked Afghanistan from there, we must remember that the Pakistani state for long, followed the policy of ‘strategic depth’ and while there may have been a disavowing of this policy at the official level, there may still be elements that see the Afghan Taliban as a strategic asset, and have no investment in the peace process that is currently paused while the Taliban do some belated succession planning. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan need to hold on to the best of what they have achieved thus far. It is no understatement to say that the future peace of the region is going to be dependent on how both countries resolve their differences, as well as the outcome(s) of the peace talks that will, eventually, recommence. Pakistan and Afghanistan are conjoined twins — what ails one, ails the other. Neither can afford a return to the days of acrimony, and both have the potential to take and hold a lead in the peace race. Both must steer a course around this rock in the road and pick up the olive branch on the other side.
Pak-Afghan Relations — A Critical Juncture
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2015.